England's Abbie Scott is tackled by New Zealand's Charmaine McMenamin and Aldora Itunu during the 2017 Women's World Cup Final
England Women’s head coach Simon Middleton has conceded it will not be “logistically possible” for his side to face off with World Champions New Zealand in a tournament warm-up game ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Middleton’s side leapfrogged the Black Ferns to become the No 1-ranked team in the world last week following an impressive 33-10 victory over France in Grenoble to stretch their winning streak over Les Bleues to six consecutive games.
With semi-professional France now failing to register a win over England since the start of 2018, next year’s World Cup in New Zealand – the first in the southern hemisphere – is likely to boil down to a two-horse race between the Red Roses and the Black Ferns.
Last month, the England Netball team quarantined for two weeks in New Zealand – which has recorded just 25 deaths from Covid and where the virus case numbers remain extremely low – before playing the Silver Ferns in a three-Test series.
But with much of Europe still in the grip of a second coronavirus wave, Middleton insists it would be practically impossible for England to follow their netball counterparts ahead of rugby’s showpiece event.
“I don’t think it’s going to be logistically possible for us now,” Middleton said. “We had all that lined up for the autumn internationals – we should have been in Australia and New Zealand now. Unfortunately, that’s not been able to take place. It’s been a major effort to get these games on, that we have got on.
“Hopefully everyone is enjoying them like we are. I think it would probably be too late to do it now, and I don’t think it’s going to be logistically possible.
"We went to New Zealand before the 2017 World Cup and although it was a great occasion and we had a fantastic win, how much did it help us? Not enough. Not as much as it helped New Zealand I don’t think. It works the other way, if we don’t see them, they don’t see us either.”
England face France in a return friendly on Saturday at Twickenham, where they will be once again without captain Sarah Hunter, who has picked up a neural issue that affects the grip in her hand.
Harlequins’ youngster Lagi Tuima will start at outside centre and Emily Scarratt given a rare start on the bench, with Middleton admitting he does not want his side to be "overly reliant" on the world player of the year. “We recognise Scaz [Scarratt] could be a strength as much as it is a threat to us,” he added.